Normally when long periods of time pass over the course of a movie, actors are made up to look younger or older, or are replaced by younger or older players as needed. The film itself is shot over the course of weeks, perhaps months for a more involved production. But the film “Boyhood” sets all of that practice on its ear, taking the daring approach of shooting a film over the course of several years and allowing actors to naturally grow and age. We see the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) who grows from a six-year-old boy to a eighteen-year old by the end of the film. His mother (Patricia Arquette) goes through her own journey as a single mom, through college and two remarriages to an established career as a professor in her own right and a less fraught relationship with Mason Senior (Ethan Hawke), yet comes to the end of raising her children and finds a sense of emptiness and disillusion at how fast her life has gone by. Mason Senior also goes on his own journey as a part-time dad, playing in a band, working low-end jobs, but finally settling down into a new marriage and steady work.
In yearly vignettes, Mason goes through the ups and downs of boyhood from riding his bike to the upheaval of moving and changing schools, being disciplined by step-parents, finding his own self-expression, developing a disciplined work ethic and navigating through relationships. We first see him as a child looking up at the sky, then getting into his mother’s car. By the end, he drives off to college in his own truck and the final scene is of him in Big Bend National Park, contemplating the sky and the moment.
Anyone who’s been involved in the production of even a short film or video knows that there is inevitable risk of cast or crew suddenly becoming unavailable due to unexpected events. For director Richard Linklater to quietly carry out a film production over twelve years and trust that he and his cast would be there every year, well and able, was a gamble that paid off. Similarly, the actors knew they were committing to something long-term regardless of how their lives or careers would evolve over twelve years. (Linklater even apparently told Hawke that he would have to finish the film if Linklater died before it was complete.) The kind of work done in “Boyhood” is a leap of faith by all involved in the production. Thankfully, it has paid off, appearing on several critics’ lists as the best film of 2014 and winning or being nominated for several awards including Golden Globe and Critics Choice. At time of publication, the 2015 Oscar nominations have not yet been made public, but “Boyhood”’s nominations under Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Hawke), Best Supporting Actress (Arquette) and Best Film Editing seem all but a foregone conclusion.
“Boyhood” is particularly engaging because every period displayed in the film is not contrived. The actors are really the age they are, not aged or made to look younger, and current events are really current. Each scene is set in, and true to, the era in which it is filmed. As Mason says at the end of the movie, “It’s always right now.” As such, there is a richness to the twelve-year journey that could never be matched by a shorter-term project. It’s understandably rare that such projects will be carried out, but cinema as a whole is richer for the work of “Boyhood”.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. She is the editor for Parvati’s book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie: A Revolutionary Life Makeover for the Sincere Spiritual Seeker”.